EPA approves four MN companies to market E15

WASHINGTON – Minnesota has four companies that could be among the first in the country to sell a richer blend of ethanol and gasoline.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced its approval of 24 companies to offer a blend that is 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. Among the first companies lining up to produce what is commonly called E15 are the owners of ethanol plants in Benson, Marshall and Fairmont and Wayzata-based Cargill, Inc.

Advocates say the mixture of gasoline and renewable ethanol could sell for 5 to 10 cents per gallon less than regular gasoline at a time when soaring gas prices dig deeper than ever into Americans’ pocketbooks.

“There should be some E15 in the market in the next month or two,” predicted Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, a trade association for ethanol producers. “Market economics should drive it.”

Cargill did not hazard a guess of when E15 might actually be available to motorists.

“This is an important and positive step toward increased usage of ethanol,” company spokesman Pete Stoddard said. “But more steps are needed for E15 to gain widespread adoption in the market.”

Among the biggest hurdles is that EPA restricts E15 to vehicles built in 2001 and later. The restriction requires companies to file plans to ensure E15 is kept out of older vehicles, as well as boats and gasoline-powered equipment, where the EPA says it may cause damage.

Minnesota requires all gas stations in the state to offer 10 percent ethanol (E10), said Christine Connelly of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. For now, it will not do the same for E15.

“Minnesota law says that unless it’s allowed in all vehicles, regardless of year, you can sell it, but it won’t be mandated,” Connelly explained.

While the lack of a mandate puts a crimp in marketing E15, Buis called EPA announcement a major move for those who earned the agency’s approval for production. “You ask why this is needed?” he said. “For 40 years, we have been addicted to foreign oil.”

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Association was not enthusiastic. “EPA’s hasty attempts to speed introduction of E15 … could endanger the safety of American consumers, threatening their vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment with possibly severe damage,” association president Charles T. Drevna said. “This action is more about political science than real science because it is designed to protect the ethanol industry rather than the American people.”

The EPA said the Department of Energy did extensive testing of E15 in vehicles.

Our Take:
The people who brought us leaded gasoline are concerned about consumer safety? We think not.

Their portrayal of E15 as a rush job is a desperate attempt to hold onto valuable marketshare when prices for gasoline are poised to go through the roof. The only thing holding prices down will be production of domestic, renewable energy that can go in our gas tanks, and that’s ethanol.

Even all the increased oil production in the Dakotas and Wyoming, and the ramp up of the environmentally disastrous Canadian tar sands oil development will not put a damper on the price at the pump. Millions every year are joining the ranks of new car owners in China and India–the world’s most populous nations, also now among the most vigorously growing economies.

The 2001 vehicle rule from EPA is quite arbitrary–there’s no marked change in the fabrication of engines and fueling systems from before that date. The government simply couldn’t obtain a good supply of vehicles for its testing process that date from more than a decade ago and that had not been driven. Of course the pre-2001 vehicles actually on the road that would use E15 would probably have 100K-plus mileage, so why not test it in high mileage vehicles? A respected Detroit auto engineering firm reviewed all the testing that’s been done and vehicle production methods going back nearly two decades and found that any vehicle produced in 1994 or after can operate safely on E15.

Still, even with EPA’s arbitrary marker set down at 2001, we feel confident that more renewable energy can make it into the transportation market now.

As the production tops out at 15 billion gallons per year, E15 should be able to take up the increased supply of ethanol and put it to work and we can let the rest of the world buy a little more of that high priced, foreign-produced fossil energy.

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